The 2018 Angels have taken some major steps forward in improving their lineup, and projection systems have rewarded them for it.
Current Fangraphs projected record: 88-74 (8th in MLB, 5th in the AL)
- Projected runs scored per game (RS/G): 4.89
- Projected runs scored against per game (RA/G): 4.41
Understandably, the projection system is a little less bullish on the Angels’ historically dilapidated pitching staff, even with a bump from [REDACTED], but sees their offense in a favorable light, over tenth of a percentage point over what the Mariners are projected to score per game. LA’s current projected win total is a nine-game improvement over last year’s win total, and a fifteen-game improvement over a miserable 2016. It would be the best finish by an Angels team since 2014, when they went to the playoffs and were swept by the Royals in the ALDS.
What will it take for the Angels to fly to the ceiling of this lofty projection?
Realizing that even though Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, he can’t do it all himself, the Angels are eschewing their previous stars-and-scrubs model in favor of more balanced offensive production. Fangraphs likes the Angels’ infield for 11.4 combined wins (compared to 9.6 for the Mariners), plus another 2 from the catching position, compared to 12 wins for their outfield (of which over 70% of that value is accorded to Trout alone). In order to hit this projection, every infielder needs to play up to what Fangraphs predicts, particularly on the left side of the infield, which is projected for a combined 8 wins. Two wins from a light-hitting catcher who was worth just over one last year seems like a steep ask, as does expecting 1.3 wins out of first base, so every other player needs to meet or exceed their predictions to stay the course, considering the low (no) win expectation from the DH position. Albert Pujols will be another year removed from the foot injury that slowed him down even more last year, but he’ll also be another year older.
On the pitching side, the Angels project to be better and healthier than last year, although still not in the same league as the top-tier pitching staffs in the AL. There are two potential huge upside plays here: one, if [REDACTED] is able to stay healthy and dominate MLB hitters right out of the gates; and two, if Garrett Richards can both pitch a full, healthy season and maintain the impressive peripherals he showed in his brief return to MLB at the end of last season. Breakouts from either one—or both—of those players could push the Angels well into the realm of serious playoff contenders.
What could clip the Angels’ wings?
In order to build a stronger core around Trout and without internal options, the Angels turned to proven but aged/costly players in the form of Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, and Justin Upton in order to maximize the window on their 34-million-dollar man. Each should contribute to significantly increased offensive production for the Halos this year, but the depth behind each of these players is paper-thin at the major league level, and even more thin at the Triple-A level. Injuries are always costly, but a significant injury to basically any position for the Angels other than 1B would be a serious blow.
In contrast to the relatively low floor of the offense, the pitching staff is extremely high-risk/ high-reward, and if things break badly it could get ugly. Garrett Richards had stem-cell therapy on his arm instead of TJ surgery in 2016, which worked about as well as PRP injections worked for Charlie Furbush. He missed all of 2017 with nerve damage, similar to the issue that kept Matt Shoemaker out. Add Ohtani’s slightly strained UCL that the Angels have reiterated they are NOT CONCERNED ABOUT AT ALL NEXT QUESTION and there are some serious questions about this rotation’s ability to remain healthy. A UCL tear is a crummy diagnosis and takes forever to recover from, but at least there’s a path forward that’s been walked by many other pitchers, rather than the shadows of strains and nerve bundles and gremlins nibbling on tendons.
What reinforcements are available on the farm?
Not much. The Angels earned accolades this off-season for acquiring ex-Braves prospect Kevin Maitan, but at just 17 he’s well away from a major league debut, which is indicative of the bottom-heavy nature of talent on this farm. CF Michael Hermosillo was added to the 40-man this year to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and may compete for a spot as a fourth outfielder if the Angels don’t lay out some more money to fill that position, but he posted just slightly-above average numbers split between AA/AAA last year (and his slightly better AAA numbers are probably attributable to the park factors in Salt Lake). Hermosillo’s value is in his defense, and if the center field spot in Anaheim is open for some reason, there are bigger problems afoot than finding an extra outfielder.
As far as a pitching pile goes, the Angels suffered a blow when it was announced RHP Nate Smith, who turned in a strong year at Triple-A Salt Lake, would miss all of 2018 with shoulder surgery. There is a collection of fine-but-uninspiring arms in Jaime Barria (a brief but successful debut at Triple-A last year, but his numbers at Double-A suggest regression is due), Rule 5 pick Luke Bard (who will need to be on the 25-man roster unless the Angels can work out a deal with Minnesota), and short reliever Eduardo Paredes, who struggled to strike out batters over 22 innings in MLB last year. With the Angels supposedly moving towards a six-man rotation and a bullpen that projects to be in the bottom third in baseball, they’re going to need both health and a few steady performances from role-players.
The Angels are one of the trickier teams to predict. There’s a very real possibility they could have the two best players in baseball, and have shoved the window wide open on their ability to contend with the AL’s superteams by flanking those players with guaranteed offensive producers who will provide immediate impact, if only for the short term. If every offensive player plays to his projection and they get a breakout pitching performance or two, the Angels could not only win the wildcard spot but contend with the Astros for the division. The Angels have been widely hailed as winners of the off-season, and the forecast in Anaheim seems as sunny as the skies. Winning the off-season doesn’t always translate to winning in-season, though, and the lack of depth means there’s little wiggle room should things take a downward turn.